Milford City Hall will turn 100 years old next year
Milford will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its City Hall building next year, with events aimed at bringing people in to see the historic structure.
The current City Hall is the fifth in succession to occupy the same site, according to historicbuildingsct.com. It was built in 1916 and was designed to resemble Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the site states.
A plaque above the front door reads, “Since its founding in 1639 Milford has erected five Town Halls all of which have stood on this site. Their dates of erection and destruction are 1645-1734; 1734-1758; 1760-1832; 1832 - 1915, and 1916.”
However, the book History of MIlford Connecticut suggests it is only the second town hall to be built at the site. Former City Historian Richard Platt said that other historic texts indicate the buildings used for town hall purposes may have once been located closer to the harbor, though certainly in the same general downtown area. He speculated that perhaps the use of the description “this site” referred to an area beyond what people today consider as the current City Hall building site.
History of Milford Connecticut recounts the groundbreaking ceremony that took place in 1916 as the town prepared to build the current City Hall, replacing the previous structure that had burned down.
“On June 17, 1916, more than a thousand people gathered beneath lowering skies to participate in the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone for Milford’s new Town Hall, the second municipal building on the same site,” the book states. “Prominent citizens made appropriate addresses, the Milford Band furnished music, and Selectman Manley J. Cheney wielded the silver trowel. Within the stone of Lee marble a copper box contains many documents, photographs, minutes of town meetings, reports, a telephone directory, various programs of Milford events, specifications, three arrowheads, and other trophies.
“The one-story red brick structure with a trim clock tower, in modern colonial style, was completed late in the of autumn of 1917, at a cost well within the appropriation of $151,000,” the book states.
The prior Town Hall had burned in the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 1915, according to an article forwarded earlier this year by resident Daniel Ortoleva.
“Five vagrants who were lodged for the night in the basement were awakened by the distressed mewing of a cat,” the article states. “They battered their way through the basement ceiling with a pipe wrenched from the wall, made their escape from the burning building, and sounded the fire alarm.”
With help from neighboring towns and cities, the local fire department fought the fire, but high wind defeated their attempts and the building was destroyed, the article states.
Mayor Ben Blake said Recreation Director Paul Piscitelli and Economic Development Director Julie Nash are organizing events to help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the current building. They have talked about hosting entertaining events next year, like magician and hypnotist shows, to attract an audience, and considering commissioning the baking of a cake in the shape of City Hall.
The building has a number of interesting architectural facets and stories, the mayor said, pointing out a marker that states the site was home to Arctic Engine Co. No. 1 in 1838.
The basement once housed city offices and the police station, and today there are rumors that it’s haunted — but Blake could not confirm that.
“I have had a couple of pens and pencils go missing over the years,” Blake said with a laugh. Today the basement is used for storage.
Blake also talks about the flood of 1982, when city records that had been stored in the basement were swept into the street, and Former Mayor Alberta Jagoe ran out to try to save what she could.
One thing about the City Hall building that has mystified Milford’s former city historian is carvings toward the top of the building. They depict cow skulls and garland, something Platt said seems more appropriate for buildings in the western parts of the country.
According to a blog site about Bryant Park in New York, which features similar art, “The technical term for the swags and skulls design is ‘bucrania.’ In ancient Greece, carvings of cattle skulls draped with garland depicted ritual animal sacrifices made to the Greek gods. Like the Renaissance and Baroque architecture that came before it, the Beaux-Arts movement recycled the bucrania motif to signify respect for the ancient world.”
Mayor Blake said the same art can be seen on the courthouse building across the street.
Blake pointed out other interesting aspects of the City Hall building, including a walled off rear foyer that is no longer used, oil lamps, and a sort of hidden tile square that leads to the clock tower on top of City Hall.
He also indicated a framed photograph on the wall of City Attorney Jonathan Berchem’s office: It shows Berchem’s great-great-grandfather, James Maher, standing in front of the current Milford City Hall sometime between 1915 and 1931, when Maher was police chief.